You never know when you will be faced with a situation in which your first aid and trauma care knowledge could save a life. The more we travel off of the beaten path, the greater the chance is that we will face a situation in which someone gets hurt. As a result, we all need to know how to take care of a cut or burn, set, bandage and splint a broken bone, stop a blood vessel from bleeding or give someone CPR.
I am not an EMT or a high-adventure guide and I don’t face first aid situations on a daily basis, but in my lifetime, I have had to handle all of these situations and more, either for myself or for someone else. Whether you’re hiking down a rocky trail in the backcountry, chopping firewood with an axe at your bug-out location, replacing a broken window in your home or working on your marksmanship at the pistol range, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to learn how to handle medical challenges that can result from these seemingly mundane activities.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
If you want to consider yourself a skilled and complete prepper, you need to be able to handle a wide range of problems and know how to use equipment in your individual or vehicle-based first aid kits. I group these skills in the same way I group the materials in my individual first aid kits: basic, intermediate and emergency.
The basic skills include care for cuts, scrapes, abrasions, heat-related illnesses (heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration), cold-related illnesses (hypothermia and frostbite), shock (which is present in every injury to some degree), stroke, seizure, poisoning, bites, choking and allergic reactions.
The intermediate skills include how to bandage and splint all three kinds of fractures (simple, closed, and open or complex), proper use of slings and other immobilization techniques, wrapping and supporting sprains and how to reposition, move and transport an injured person.
The emergency skills include handling such issues as puncture wounds to the chest, cuts with heavy bleeding and arterial bleeding—life-threatening problems that affect the ability to breathe or that involve keeping the blood where it belongs- in the body. In addition, it’s important to learn how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use automatic external defibrillators (AEDs).
The blow-out set of skills are for the most urgent and most complicated scenarios and, as a result, require the most training. You should also remember to only provide the level of care that you have been trained to provide and not try to do more than you are capable of doing.
For example, if you haven’t been trained on how to use a decompression chest needle, you should absolutely not try to do it.
GOOD SAMARITAN LAWS
Remember, the first axiom of first aid or any medical care is to do no harm. Limiting what you do to what you have been trained to do will ensure you don’t hurt the person you are trying to help. It will also help keep you within the scope of your state’s Good Samaritan laws.
Most states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who give first aid from lawsuits, but they only cover you if you limit yourself to what you have been trained to do. Certifications for skills like giving CPR are only good for a specified time and must be kept current if you are going to be covered by these laws.
“Remember, the first axiom of first aid or any medical care is to do no harm.”
EVALUATE AND PRIORITIZE
“Triage” is evaluating a situation to quickly determine what has happened, what kind of care needs to be provided and, most importantly, what needs to be done first. The sequence of actions to take is-
• Evaluate the scene to make sure it is safe.
• Call, or have someone else call, to activate the local emergency medical services/911.
• Check for and ensure that the person’s airway is not obstructed.
• Check for whether the person is breathing and that their blood is circulating.
• Check for bleeding.
• Get consent from the person to provide care for them, and then treat in the order of airway, breathing and bleeding.
You can find training in a variety of places and forms. Some are listed below, but search online for what you are looking for in your area.
• CPR and AED training from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association
• Basic first aid training from the American Red Cross or at your local community college under EMS training
• Advanced first aid and trauma training from www.DarkAngelMedical.com, www.ProFirstAid.com, https://PS-Med.com (PerSys Medical) or www.T2Training.com.
Books and references for the lay (non-professional) first aid provider:
• Boy Scout Handbook (sections on first aid appear throughout the manual)
• Boy Scout First Aid Merit Badge
• Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Participant’s Manual with Emergency First Aid Guide
• Red Cross Wilderness and Remote First Aid Reference Guide
Videos for the lay (non-professional) first-aid provider:
• Search online for “videos showing how to …” for how to use a tourniquet or a pressure dressing, such as the Israeli bandage, or how to perform other first aid skills.
“Being able to provide care to yourself is just as important as being able to provide it for others.”
WHERE TO LEARN
Fortunately for all of us, there is a variety of sources for getting first aid training at all levels. Organizations like the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association provide training in first aid and CPR in a number of formats, including classroom and a mix of online and classroom.
Many manufacturers and retailers of first aid equipment, such as tourniquets or pressure bandages, also provide training in the form of classes, seminars or online videos and websites. There are also a number of organizations, such as NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) that provide excellent classroom and hands-on training for wilderness first aid, which is geared toward those of us who spend much of our time outdoors.
We talked to Kerry Davis, owner and founder of Dark Angel Medical and maker of the Direct Action Response Kit D.A.R.K.), one of the more popular blow-out/trauma kits that is used by military, law enforcement and civilians. As a former Air Force flight medic and current emergency medicine registered nurse, Davis knows first-hand the value and importance of training for the individual who has to face a medical crisis head-on before EMS arrives.
“Basic emergency medical skills training should absolutely be considered one of the cornerstones of being self-sufficient,” Davis said.
“Just as we build on the fundamentals of shooting, we should build on the fundamentals of medical skills. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and should something horrible befall us, our friends or loved ones, we need to be prepared to react instinctively and effectively to respond, just as we must respond with a firearm to a threat. It may also rely on your ability to act under extreme stress or under the worst possible conditions. To that end, how many of you have self-applied a tourniquet to your upper thigh in the dark, seated in your car, with a seatbelt on? Have you considered a situation that might force you to do that? What gives us that edge? Training and repetition.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Make an investment in yourself and for your family and get the first aid training you need. Then, incorporate it into your other regular skill-practice sessions so that it, too, becomes second nature to you. Like many other skills, knowing how to handle a medical emergency is a very perishable skill with many levels of competency, and it deserves regular practice and refresher courses.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2014 print issue of American Survival Guide.